Malaysian MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is the eldest daughter of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, has been released on police bail after being detained in the Jinjang lock-up in Kuala Lumpur overnight. She is required to present herself at the Dang Wangi police station again on April 16.
Two hours after Nurul Izzah was released, the deputy chairman of the Human Rights and Legal Bureau of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), S. Jayathas, was arrested under Section 143 of Malaysia’s Penal Code, accused of illegal assembly. He had gone to the Dang Wangi police station in KL to give a statement.
He was questioned over the Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rallies that have been held every Saturday afternoon since Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on February 10 and was released on police bail at about 8.30 p.m.
The executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, pointed out on Twitter that S. Jayathas has serious diabetes, requires medication, and is on dialysis treatment.
Two other activists, Adam Adli Abdul Halim and Mandeep Singh, were released on police bail at about 4 p.m. They were detained in Jinjang after their arrest on Saturday (March 14) at the end of a small, peaceful rally in central Kuala Lumpur.
Nurul Izzah, who is the MP for Lembah Pantai and PKR vice-president, was detained under the Sedition Act for a speech she made in parliament last Tuesday (March 10) on behalf of her father. Police had initially said they would remand her for four days, but released her after one night. The MP is considering taking legal action against the police over her arrest.
The Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) opposition coalition, which comprises the PKR, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), is to put forward a motion in parliament to censure Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police (IGP), Khalid Abu Bakar, for arresting an MP over a speech made in the House.
On her release just after noon, Nurul Izzah said her arrest was a blatant abuse of power by Khalid Abu Bakar as she had immunity under Article 63 (2) of the federal constitution to raise issues in parliament. She added: “I hold the prime minister responsible for allowing transgressions against parliamentarians.”
Nurul Izzah described her arrest and detention as an embarrassment for Malaysia and a complete betrayal of the trust of Malaysians. The country’s democracy, she said, was being taken hostage.
She said the IGP should be focusing on actual criminals and added that her arrest for raising an issue in parliament was the first of its kind since 1978. Such an onslaught on her rights as a parliamentarian would affect other MPs’ rights to speak up in the future, she said.
She added: “The Sedition Act is so wide. It is so arbitrary. How to escape it unless you are an UMNO member?”
UNMO (the United Malays National Organisation) is the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. The party has been in power for the past 57 years.
Nurul Izzah’s lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah, who is the MP for Subang, today accused Khalid Abu Bakar of lying to the public and said the IGP should resign.
The IGP tried to give the impression that the police were unable to record Nurul Izzah’s statement yesterday, so had to remand her, Sivarasa Rasiah said. “That impression he attempts to give is false and totally unbecoming of the head of the police force … Nurul Izzah’s statement could easily have been recorded by yesterday afternoon.”
Sivarasa Rasiah added: “Khalid Abu Bakar should resign for his shameless lies to the public to attempt to justify his instructions to his officers to remand Nurul Izzah overnight in the Jinjang lock-up, a remand which was totally unnecessary.
“Khalid should know that it is obvious to all and sundry that his detention of Nurul Izzah has UMNO’s political fingerprints all over it. Unintelligent lies will not make that impression go away.”
Sivarasa Rasiah said the IGP’s arrest and detention of Nurul Izzah was “malicious and illegal”.
Nurul Izzah was questioned about a Kita Lawan rally on February 14, and her statement in parliament on March 10, he added.
The PKR communications director, Fahmi Fadzil, said the authorities’ decision to arrest Nurul Izzah was a very big miscalculation. “The public backlash is very severe. If they had held her longer than just one night, I think public sentiment would definitely have turned against the current administration. People all over the world are paying attention to this case.”
Fahmi said the authorities were now trying to limit the fall-out from Nurul Izzah’s arrest, but, he says, they won’t be able to.
Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil outside the Jinjang lock-up last night.
N. Surendran, who is the MP for Padang Serai in Kedah and also one of Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyers, explained yesterday that there is a limited exception to parliamentary immunity in Malaysia. “Action can only be taken against MPs for words uttered which fall under section 3(1)(f) of the Sedition Act 1948, i.e. on citizenship, the position of rulers, national language, or the special position of Malays.
“In other words, MPs cannot be charged for anything said in parliament unless they question the foregoing ‘sensitive’ matters.”
On February 10, the federal court upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year, which found Anwar (pictured left) guilty of sodomising his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008, and sentenced the former deputy prime minister to five years in prison.
The verdict has been heavily criticised both locally and internationally.
There have been a series of detentions over the Kita Lawan rallies and comments condemning Anwar’s jailing. Nurul Izzah was the third MP to be detained since a mass rally on March 7, and seven other people, including an assemblyman, have been arrested. Nurul Izzah said she expected her sister Nurul Nuha to be questioned by police soon.
On March 7, about 10,000 people took to the streets. The demonstrators are calling for Anwar’s release, the resignation of the prime minister Najib Razak, and reform of Malaysia’s judiciary.
Today, Nurul Izzah thanked her supporters for standing up for her, and defended other activists who have been detained.
The opposition, Nurul Izzah said, has been doing its best to work within the confines of the law, and via elections, but there had been political persecution.
She also thanked the police who dealt with her for their professionalism, but she said she would bring up the issue of overcrowding in Jingang with the IGP. Children were being detained there, she said, and there needed to be an open tender for the food provided in the lock-up.
Treatment of detainees
Fahmi Fadzil said Nurul Izzah was treated differently to other opposition activists who have been detained recently. She was not obliged to wear purple garb or go barefoot, and she was not handcuffed.
Even the DAP Socialist youth chief and MP for Rasah Teo Kok Seong, who was held for one day, and assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who was detained for three days, were obliged to wear the lock-up garb, and were handcuffed. “The treatment is very demeaning and we have protested against such treatment, especially since they are brought in to facilitate investigations,” Fahmi said. “They are not even suspects; they are not convicts, but they are being treated like convicts.”
The police, Fahmi says, are being quite arbitrary in their treatment of those they arrest. “There is no standard operating procedure. They treat some people better and some people worse.”
Nurul Izzah’s arrest has been widely condemned. The deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said: “The arrest of MP Nurul Izzah Anwar shows that the Malaysian government seems to know no bounds in its efforts to stifle free speech and criminalize dialogue that would be a normal part of political discourse in much of the rest of the world.
“The Prime Minister Najib and his government are shamefully using the Sedition Act like an axe to hack down opposition politicians, community activists, and any others who dare speak their minds.”
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also condemned Nurul Izzah’s arrest and detention. “The Malaysian authorities must stop the continued use of the offence of sedition to arbitrarily detain and stifle freedom of expression,” the ICJ’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Sam Zarifi, said in a statement.
The ICJ reiterated its call for the repeal of the Sedition Act. “The ICJ considers that the Act, by its very terms, contemplates restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are grossly overbroad and inconsistent with basic rule of law and human rights principles.”
In a statement on the website of the United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur, spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We are deeply concerned with the detention of opposition member of parliament, Nurul Izzah.”
The statement continued: “The Malaysian government’s recent investigations and charges of sedition against critics raise serious concerns about freedom of expression, rule of law, and the independence of the judicial system in Malaysia. To further restrict freedom of expression will only lead to further erosion of important pillars of Malaysia’s democratic system.
“We encourage Malaysia to take steps to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently, and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy, judiciary, and economy.”
Lawyers criticised police for insisting on going to Nurul Izzah’s house to obtain a hard copy of the speech she gave in parliament. It is publicly available in the Hansard record, they point out. There was no reason whatsoever to detain her overnight, Fahmi said.
Eric Paulsen tweeted: “Clear as day, detention overnight was to punish @n_izzah. Her speech was recorded in Parliament, also in Hansard. No need to search house.”
Writing in Free Malaysia Today, Scott Ng said: “In attempting to silence Izzah, Najib has just created what could be the new standard bearer of the opposition coalition. Of all the recent arrests made on opposition figures, this seems the most vindictive and personal of all, coming against established laws and traditions and gripping the attention of the nation.”
Nurul Izzah, already a popular figure, was now one who is relevant worldwide, and her first words stepping out of that prison would be reported far and wide, Scott Ng wrote. “In that sense, her voice will become much more powerful than her detractors could possibly imagine.”
Reporting on a press conference held in the parliamentary lobby today, Free Malaysia Today quoted Nurul Izzah as saying “this incident is a clear sign that the government is desperate, and resorting to cowardly tactics to intimidate the opposition”.
Nurul insisted that her arrest was “completely unnecessary, malicious, unlawful, and an assault on the institution of parliament”, Free Malaysia Today reported. “My arrest confirms what we have maintained all this while: Anwar Ibrahim is Malaysia’s number one political prisoner; and hidden intentions to make me a political prisoner to further consolidate power in the ruling elite.”
In February, activists were being arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code or the Sedition Act, but some arrests have also been made under Section 9 (5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA), which lawyers say became null and void after a Court of Appeal ruling last year.
Lawyers also say Section 143 should not be used against those assembling peacefully. The provision, they say, should only come into play when there is criminal force.
Last Saturday, before Adam and Mandeep Singh were arrested, police also detained Teo Kok Seong. He was arrested after he arrived at the Dang Wangi police station to give his statement about his participation in the March 7 protest.
Teo’s lawyer, Wong Kah Woh, said police had requested a four-day remand for the Rasah MP, but the magistrate granted one day.
Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (pictured left) – who is the PKR youth leader and assemblyman for Seri Setia in Selangor state – was detained for three days after his arrest on March 8. He was released on police bail on March 10.
He has filed a revision in the High Court to challenge a magistrate’s decision to remand him for three days.
Nik Nazmi had already been arrested on February 22 after a rally the previous day. On that occasion, he was released on police bail without charge after about four hours.
Adam has also now been arrested twice over the recent Kita Lawan rallies. The first arrest was after the rally on February 21. Adam and the head of the PKR-backed Jingga 13 non-governmental organisation Fariz Musa were detained under Section 143 on the day of the rally and were held overnight in the Jingang lock-up. They were then released on police bail without charge.
Adam is also in the throes of an appeal against a conviction and 12-month jail sentence for sedition.
Fariz Musa was also arrested again – on March 10.
The PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli, who is the MP for Pandan, the PAS youth treasurer Mohd Fakhrul Razi, and the Kelana Jaya PKR youth leader Saifullah Zulkifli were also arrested in March.
In February, police detained the cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar; the secretary-general of the Malaysian Socialist Party, S. Arutchelvan; and activist Lawrence Jayaraj, all for alleged sedition.
Arrests since March 7; infographic courtesy of Malaysiakini.
Article updated at 10.30 p.m. on March 17 (release of S. Jayathas), and on March 18 (new infographic).